Over the past 60 years, the United States has seen and survived 10 recessions (not including the one we are in at present, 19-plus months and counting). From the shortest one -- six months in 1980 -- to the two monster ones that spanned 1973-1975 and 1981-1982, we've muddled through and come out the other side. In between each, we've experienced, on average, almost five years of expansion.

So although we're in another recession right now -- along with its bear market -- I'm excited!

Pardon me while I wipe my chin
First, we have had a whole bunch of people running around in panic mode crying, "The sky is falling!" They don't want to hold stocks, doomed or not, during a recession, so they're willing to sell them -- cheap.

Second, the news media fans the flames of panic with constant stories about weakening consumer spending (still) and how the recession is hurting everything from Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) to ZymoGenetics.

Third, we've got a handful of really hated companies. Specifically, I'm talking about the banks, thrifts, and builders that caused -- and are feeling the fallout from -- the mess we're in.

What does that add up to? Bargains.

Like a kid in a candy store ... and the candy's on sale
One option is a bank, specifically Allied Irish Banks (NYSE:AIB). While it just reported increased impaired or at-risk loans, the company is probably still the best of the Irish banks. Concern that the bank will need to raise more capital than indicated so far, as well as worry about the "bad bank" being set up by the Irish government, continue to hold the price of the stock at low levels. If it can survive the downturn in the Irish economy and get rid of the majority of its bad loans, it could turn into a fantastic investment from this point forward.

There's also the investment bankers and brokerages. Some, like Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), might be worth investing in. Heck, if it gets cheap enough, even I will take a closer look. (Even possibly bad companies can be good investments if you get them at the right price.)

Then there are (still) the retailers, trying to survive declining same-store sales and decreased consumer spending. This is where a strong balance sheet is helpful. Gap (NYSE:GPS), for instance, has $1.7 billion in cash and short-term investments and no debt, better than six months ago. As long as cash flow keeps coming, and so far it has, the company should survive to become great again.

Even some big-name companies have been dragged down -- for instance, Merck (NYSE:MRK), maker of a lot of the drugs we take. The stock has been falling for most of the past two years.

Finally, there are other sectors such as consumer goods (for example, Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG)) or even tech (Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)). Both are off significantly from their highs of the past couple of years. Possibly all that talk about lower consumer and company spending in 2009 has driven their prices down.

But really, who cares about 2009? For my money, I'm more interested in companies I can buy today and still own in 2014 -- so thanks for the bargains, Mr. Market!

"When Buffet speaks, people listen"
Investing in the above industries might seem counterintuitive now, but Warren Buffett says au contraire:

To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation's many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10, and 20 years from now.

Bill Nygren, another great value investor, agrees. Looking at the current economic situation, he wrote, "What usually happens is that suffering industries begin to recover, the next crisis comes from somewhere least expected, and the cycle of creating new investment opportunities starts anew. We have no reason to believe it will be different this time."

These gentlemen know that investing today in areas that aren't well-liked will position your portfolio for the eventual end of this bear market. There will be another bull market. What we have now is the chance to grab some good companies while they're cheap.

So what are you going to do? Stop investing in stocks altogether, worried that things will be different this time? Or listen to master investors (not me -- Buffett and Nygren!) and look at some opportunities?

I know what I'm doing.

Finding value
Above, I've given some names of companies that have caught my eye recently. But to get a look at companies that have been the subject of much deeper research, check out the last two recommendations and five "best buy now" companies -- seven total -- given just this month at our Motley Fool Inside Value service. Philip Durell and his team look in downtrodden areas of the market, just as Buffett and Nygren advise.

Right now, we're offering a free 30-day trial, so here's your chance to look deeper into this market-beating newsletter.

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This article was first published on Feb. 12, 2008. It has been updated.

Jim Mueller owns shares of Allied Irish. Amazon is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Intel is an Inside Value recommendation. Procter & Gamble is an Income Investor selection. Allied Irish Banks is a Global Gains recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble and Allied Irish Banks. The Fool has a disclosure policy that believes, deep down, that the market will turn around.